More people these days are installing solar panels as an alternative energy source for their home. Solar panels use photovoltaic (PV) cells to turn sunlight into electricity, so they are environmentally friendly. Solar panels can also cut your electricity bill by more than half.
But that's not the only advantage. A PV system can generate cash as well as power because you can sell any surplus electricity back to the national grid and take advantage of the government's feed in tariffs. If your system is eligible, it could bring in savings and income of around £650 a year. No wonder solar panels are popular with cost-conscious households.
Check the sum insured
The sum insured is insurance-speak for the maximum pay out. So it's important to get it right. Many people, for example, underestimate the value of their contents. But they can quickly add up, particularly if you are fond of gadgets, such as laptops and iPads. The best way to ensure an adequate sum insured is to make a room-by-room inventory of your belongings. Don't forget the attic, or the garden shed!
The sum insured for buildings insurance should cover the rebuild value of your home – and the rebuild value is not the same as the market value. In fact, in many cases it is lower. There is more information on calculating the rebuild value of your home at the website of the Association of British Insurers (www.abi.org.uk).
Many insurers these days no longer ask for a specific sum insured for either buildings or contents as they provide cover up to a maximum limit. However, it is still your responsibility to check that the limit is adequate.
Some insurers insist that your home meets certain minimum security standards
Protect your valuables
If you have particularly valuable items in your home, such as paintings, jewellery, or even computers, you should check whether the policy imposes claim limits for individual items, including cash. Otherwise, you could end up out of pocket.
Wear and tear
Home insurance does not cover wear and tear. In other words, if your sofa is looking a bit tired and saggy, you cannot claim for a new one on your contents policy. You are also duty bound to keep your home and contents safe and in a good state of repair. So, if you go out and leave the doors open, don't expect the insurer to meet the claim for theft.
Most standard home insurance policies exclude loss or damage caused by war, acts of terrorism or radiation. You might also find that rot and damage by vermin or household pets is not covered. A standard buildings insurance policy will also normally exclude storm damage to gates and fences.
Keep your home secure
Some insurers insist that your home meets certain minimum security standards. You might, for example, be required to fit a certain type of door or window lock.
How does your garden grow?
Many home insurance policies cover trees, shrubs and plants in the garden, but only if you look after them properly and they are not damaged by birds, insects or pets. Your cover should also extend to garden equipment, such as lawn mowers and tools.
If you have a bicycle, check the details of the policy. Some firms automatically include pedal cycles, but it is not guaranteed.
Don't leave your home empty
If you are planning a long holiday, or you spend some of the year abroad, you should check the details of your home insurance. Most policies do not cover the property if it is empty for more than 30 or sometimes 60 consecutive days.
Read all about the excess
The excess is the amount you have to pay towards each claim. So, if you have an excess of £100 and make a successful claim for £500, the insurer will pay £400. Some policies have different excess for different sections. The excess for subsidence claims, for example, is often higher than for storm claims.
Accidents can happen
Many policies include some accidental damage as standard. But the level of cover varies. Some firms, for example, will insure accidental damage to glass fittings and home entertainment systems, but might exclude games consoles. Accidents can and do happen in the home, so it's important to check the details and to buy extra cover if necessary,
Cover for personal possessions
Your contents insurance will usually cover your personal possessions when you are out of the home, though some insurers charge an extra premium. Cover for personal possessions can be a useful add-on, especially if you carry an expensive phone or laptop. But check for claim limits and any restrictions on where you can take your belongings and how long you can be away from home.
Keep the insurer up to date
You must notify your insurer if you make any changes to your home, such as renovations or an extension as they could affect the value. It is also important to let the insurer know if you let out your property or use it for business purposes, even though it could limit the cover. Most insurers, for example, do not cover theft, malicious or accidental damage by a tenant. Failure to disclose all relevant information can invalidate your policy.